Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tearful Farewells at 30th Anniversary of Shuttle Program

Tearful Farewells at 30th Anniversary of Shuttle Program: "

blog post photo
A big hint as to what was about to take place was the location of the ceremony - behind OPF-1 and with shuttle Atlantis in plain view. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

CAPE CANAVERAL – As the space shuttle program faces its twilight, with only two months and as many flights remaining in the program, NASA took time to honor the vehicle that has symbolized U.S. manned space flight efforts. NASA has used the shuttle to send people and material into space for thirty years.

At 1 p.m., NASA’s Administrator, Charles Bolden, along with Kennedy Space Center Director Robert Cabana, astronaut Janet Kavandi, shuttle Endeavour’s Vehicle Manager Mike Parrish and STS-1 Pilot Robert Crippen spoke to collected NASA employees and members of the media outside of Orbital Processing Facility-1 (OPF-1). They talked about the program’s past and the future destinations of the orbiter fleet.

However, the most important message this day was where the remaining shuttles will go when the shuttle program draws to a close. Charles Bolden tried to get the first destination out but choked up. In the meantime, the Jumbotron TV stated quite clearly where shuttle Atlantis would go before the four-time shuttle astronaut collected himself and got the words out – Kennedy Space Center.

“I guess I got something right today,” said Bolden. “Thanks very much, I think I know what it does for you, you have no idea what that applause does for me, it’s been a rough day.”

The announcement that Kennedy Space Center would receive Atlantis sent the crowd into thunderous applause, culminating in a standing ovation and causing Bolden to react to the emotional and historical nature of the moment.

It was also announced that space shuttle Enterprise, a test article of the shuttle design, will move from its current home at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York. The Udvar-Hazy Center will be home for Discovery, which finished its last mission in March. Endeavour, which is being readied for its final flight at the end of this month, will go to the California Science Center in Los Angeles.

Bolden and Cabana were joined by a third veteran astronaut of the early years of the space program and one that flew on the very first shuttle mission, STS-1 – Robert Crippen. STS-1 is viewed as one of the most risky test flights in history. If something had gone wrong during the launch, Crippen and Commander John Young would have had to eject from Columbia – through the vehicle’s fiery plume. However, everything worked according to plan and Columbia landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California two days later.

There was also a guest appearance from the current members of the International Space Station who called in from orbit. They apologized for not being able to attend – before they acknowledged it was thanks to the hard work of those present that they couldn’t be there. Astronauts Cady Coleman and Ron Garan were joined by ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli as well as cosmonauts Dmitry Kondratyev, Andrey Borisenko and Alexander Samokutyaev. The station’s crew spoke about how the shuttle program made this international effort possible.

On April 12, 1981, the space shuttle Columbia roared into orbit on the first mission of the shuttle program. The first crew only had two astronauts on board, Apollo veteran John Young and rookie astronaut Robert Crippen. The first flight of the shuttle program took place 20 years to the day that the first human rode fire into orbit – Yuri Gagarin.

There are currently only two shuttle flights remaining, Endeavour is slated to conduct its 25th and final mission, STS-134, at the end of this month and Atlantis will launch the final mission on June 28. Once this mission is over, NASA will have to rely on Russia for access to the International Space Station until small, commercial firms, those supported under President Obama’s new plans for NASA can produce a launch system to fill the void.

“For all of them, take good care of our vehicles, they’ve served the nation well and we at NASA have a deep and abiding relationship and love affair with them that’s hard to put into words,” Bolden said. “Now, we’re going to look ahead to Endeavour’s final mission into space, STS-134, thank you all again for your service and support to this amazing program and these amazing flying machines and thanks all of you for your dedicated service to our great nation – stay focused.”


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